As a result, I fully expected a flight from hell that would make a really interesting blog post for my first flight of 2018. What I got would put many “full service” airlines to shame.
We wanted to fly direct from Shanghai to Bangkok. Six airlines ply the route non-stop including full-service Carriers: China Eastern/Shanghai, Juneyao Airlines and Thai Airways as well as low cost Air Asia, Lion Air, and Spring. Fares started at $US390. Spring, however, offered a fare of around $US100 for the four-hour flight. Their ticket, unlike Air Asia’s, included 15kg of luggage. For the two of us, this means, we saved almost $US600 over any other airline. That can buy a lot of food in Thailand!
I noted, fares varied widely over the week. Spring’s fares the next day were $US30 higher but fares for the previous day could be had for just $US68 for the sector.
Before complaining about China Eastern’s website last week, I should have played with the Spring airlines site. I do not know about their Mandarin version but their English website is the worst airline website I have dealt with. It starts promisingly and descends downhill. Its design is cumbersome, confusing and clunky.
There is a dearth of information on anything useful such as check-in procedures and seat selection. For example, the 15kg luggage allowance includes a 5kg carry on so you are actually only able to check in 10kg and carry on 5kg. Many passengers have arrived with, what turns out to be, excess baggage and been forced to pay for additional luggage at sky high prices. Ascertaining this is not easy on the website.
The funniest aspect of the site are the free stock photos the airline has used which are of predominantly white couples and families which does not fit with its Chinese and Japanese home markets!
The My Bookings tab does not allow you to manage your booking! Do not even try. We have already spent those hours for you!
The airline offers a package called SpringPlus which increases luggage allowances and gives you additional benefits such as a free meal. Not sure how popular this scheme is. There were just two passengers on the plane who had opted for this package. They got a warm and personal welcome from the cabin manager and were served meals before the meal sales started for the other customers.
The booking system did not allow us to choose seats. After facing confusing information online, we visited a Spring ticketing office in Shanghai. The staff at that ofifce brusquely told us to wait until the airport.
Having experienced both queuing and customer service (?) in China for a week, we expected an awful check-in. I was blown away by what proved to be one of the best check-ins I have had for a long time.
First up, we were stunned at how fast the check in staff were processing passengers. It was poetry in motion. Doubly stunned to observe warm friendly service from clerks with a sense of humour handling passengers in English and Mandarin.
We asked about exit row seats and were told they had all gone but the agent proactively offered us two seats next to each other in row two with extra leg room for $US15 each. Paying with an international card was a little bit more of a hurdle as I had to walk for 30 seconds to the ticketing counter. Cash and Alipay always win in China!
Normally I do not check luggage in but as I usually carry about 8kg plus computer/book, we needed to as Spring’s carry on limit is just 5kg.
Security was very thorough and the security agents wanted to see any power banks that passengers were carrying as well as computers, Ipads and phones. This meant the security lines were a little slower than I have expreienced elsewhere.
There was no lounge available for this low cost carrier, so we explored the air terminal. The selection of foods after customs and immigration was surprisingly limited. I also encountered some of the renowned Chinese customer service when I lined up for a Bubble tea. Many Chinese customers in front of me, bought a various combination of teas. When I reached the counter, she said “sold out“. I then asked for another flavour. Sold out. Third flavour. Sold out. “So what do you have?” I asked. She said “everything finished except for plain tea wth milk“. Ah ha.
The vending machines at each end of the terminal sold the same drinks as the shops for much cheaper. For example, Perrier bottled water in the shops was $US7 and $US3 at the machines. Free sterilised warm and hot water is available from dispensers near the lavatories.
Spring started their boarding process at 20:15 and finished it exactly 20:40. If you are late, they will leave you behind.
Also, make sure your hand luggage meets their really strict size and weight requirements. They will make you pay! And the gate check-in prices will make your eyes water, sitting at around $US100 per bag.
We then had an eight-minute bus ride to the plane. Compared to most things we lined up for in China, the boarding was actually quite pleasant. Standing on a crowded jerking bus got a little tedious but did give us some fun plane spotting opportunities. There was a mad scramble for the plane stairs. I always solve this by boarding the bus last and standing near the door, so I am first off!
We were very warmly welcomed on board by the cabin crew who spoke, English, Mandarin and Thai. Every announcement (and there were many) were in all three languages.
Safety Briefing: 9/10
The staff demonstrated the safety features against a soundtrack of a pre-recorded safety briefing in three languages It was clear and thorough. They moved through the cabin very carefully to check on issues. It inspired a lot of confidence.
They missed one bag that the man in the bulkhead row in front of me had moved to under his feet. Every time the crew went past him, he covered it with his legs. He knew what he was doing. It was clear he was simply trying to save a few seconds when deplaning. If the bag had gone flying in an incident it could have caused problems with an emergency evacuation.
Take off- right on time
The plane started moving just two minutes after scheduled time. After a ten minute taxi, we were in the air moving through some turbulence.
On Board: 7/10
Each plane has 180 seats in a standard 3/3 layout. While it is an Economy only airline, the cabin is divided into three sections:
- A curtained-off VIP section at the front of the plane with 12 seats marked in blue above -each with a massive 36″ of leg room. This is where we sat
- 54 “Hot Seats” which have 30″ of leg room (green)
- “Party Seats” marked in yellow. which the airline markets as the perfect place to sit with family and friends They need to be a short friend as the leg room is just 28″
The airline is strict about moving seats on board. Unless you have paid for your seat, you cannot upgrade yourself!
The seat design of the seat is not comfortable and feels very “cheap”. The tray table, for example, is clearly the most basic model ever. There is no recline on any of seat on a Spring Airways plane.
Lavatories were spotlessly clean
I found the staff excellent and pleasant. I was blown away by their attitudes and professionalism. The cabin crew bowed to us, Japanese style, at the start and end of the flight.
Unless you have bought a Springplus package there is no free food or drink on board. Many people complain about this in the Forums but the airline is very upfront about it. What shocked us was how cheap the onboard catering was. Scoot mark theirs up considerably and Air Asia prices tend to be on the high side. I thought Spring’s prices were great. Meal quality appeared to be excellent.
The airline bans external food for “comfort” reasons. We brought water we had filled up at the airport in Shanghai and an orange juice. One passenger in the row behind me had a feast which he unwrapped as we taxied and the staff were seated. He had consumed pretty much most of it by the time the seatbelt sign went off.
There is none. Some people have complained that the airline does not allow you to use your own tablets or computers. I saw no evidence of this. They are very strict about ensuring you comply with China’s mobile phone policy standing over customers until phones were completely powered down.
The in-flight magazine is two thirds full of ads for stuff the airline sells. One assumes that they deliver it to you as it includes things such as luggage, glassware and silverware! There were a couple of pitches to buy stuff but some other passengers have reported that the sales pitches can go for periods of 30 to 60 minutes until enough stuff is sold t meet crew targets.
There is no wifi.
There are lots of announcements about working together as passengers and crew to ensure everyone has a pleasant flight. Subtle.
After a loop of Bangkok, we landed early. I am now used to passengers getting up during landing but was stunned with one male passenger. He not only unbuckled his seat belt the second the back wheels touched down but got out of his seat and stood on the armrest to get his bags down. The cabin crew made announcements in all three languages and rushed toward him to make him sit down.
Surprisingly we had a gate arrival. After encountering the grumpiest Thai immigration agent I have ever had out of 35 trips there, we collected our luggage at the carousel. Not only did it arrive but it was intact.
My Flight Rating: 72%
About the Airline: Spring Airlines (9C) founded in 2004, is headquartered in Shanghai and operates from both Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) to about 60 destinations across Cambodia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam with 52 Airbus A320 planes.
Skytrax: Skytrax rates them as a 3 Star airline. Skytrax customers give them 5/10. Many of the complaints are protests against the luggage rules, the seat pitch and the lack of food.
Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives them 7 out of 7 which is higher than Thai Air Asia and Lion Air.
Frequent Flyer Program: Spring Pass
Positives: Great check-in, amazing fare, good food prices
Negatives: Entertainment, website
Would I fly them again? Yes. If the saving is substantial.Taking little luggage, being clear about the rules, getting an extra legroom seat and eating beforehand means you can probably easily survive a Spring Airlines trip. Maybe next time, I will get a horror flight, I can blog about?
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